Quick Tips – Questions & Answers 4

Over the top panel shaping

Q: I recently acquired a 5-hp, 1¼-in. spindle shaper. I intend to make a set of raised panels on it using a very large cutting head, and I am concerned about safety. Is it acceptable to mount the cutter so that the head is above the work and lowered down to make the cut?

A: IT IS MUCH SAFER IN GENERAL to run the cutter below the table because of the reduced exposure. However, if the finished stock must be a critical thickness, such as a panel edge to fit snugly into the groove in a frame, mounting the cutter above the table is more efficient. By setting the correct distance between the cutter and the table, you guarantee that the thickness of all the panels will be uniform.

Unlike router bits, shaper cutters can be installed face up or face down and the rotation can be reversed. Panel cutters are designed to run face down with a typical right-to-left feed (or face up, under the panel, from left to right with the rotation reversed).

For above-the-panel shaping, start by mounting a stock Lexan guard with a center bearing over the cutter. Do not mount a plywood disk or a piece of Lexan or Plexiglas with a hole cut into it directly on top of the cutter. Doing so would turn what was intended to be a guard into a spinning weapon.

I also use a shopmade hold-down that presses the panel flat against the table. There should be enough downward pressure to keep the panel from lifting, but not enough to make it hard to push the panel through. Remember that with the cutter mounted above, catastrophic consequences can occur if the panel should lift up from the table.

For a large, raised-panel cutter, I run the shaper somewhere around 4,000 rpm. I ride my panels on an auxiliary table that has a small clearance around the cutter to prevent the panel from dipping into the table opening.
Back up the stock with a push board. Start by shaping an end-grain side and go around the piece counterclockwise. That way, your final pass will be along the face grain, reducing the likelihood of blowing out the corner details.
One final safety rule: As with all power-tool operations, if you don’t feel comfortable doing this task, don’t do it. Period.

Don’t shape without the proper guard. The bearing on this Lexan guard keeps it from spinning with the cutter. A spinning guard can cut or burn you seriously.


Make the hold-down from plywood by drilling and cutting alternating spring cuts. Clamp the hold-down with a spacer block between it and the fence to clear the shaper bit and avoid tilting the workpiece.

Safety first. With the hold-down against the fence and a piece of scrap serving as a push block, your hands stay far from the cutter. It is safer and you’ll get a cleaner cut by making several shallow passes.

Sharpening spokeshave blades

Q: I’m having trouble sharpening my spokeshave blades. The blade from my wooden shave is the wrong shape for my sharpening jig, and the blade from my metal shave is too short for it. Any advice?
A: There are sharpening methods for both types of blade despite their unusual sizes and shapes.
The drawknife-like blade of a wooden shave has two built-in sharpening aids, the tangs on its sides.

Holding both of them, work the back of the blade on a stone. A perfectly flat back isn’t critical; in fact, a very small back bevel strengthens the edge and gives a little added control coming out of a cut.
The exact bevel angle isn’t critical either (around 20° is fine), but it should be a consistent angle. To achieve this, rest the blade in a shallow “V” groove in a scrap block. Hold one tang, and slide a sharpening stone across the bevel.

The short blade of a high-angle, cast-iron spokeshave is sharpened as you would any plane blade—at a 25° bevel, with a flat back. Put a slight curve on the edge if you want to use the shave for smoothing.
To use a sharpening jig, tape the blade to the end of a standard plane iron—or to a 1⁄4-in.-thick scrap of wood that’s the same size as one. The idea is to “lengthen” the blade so it fits in the jig. Then you can sharpen it as you would a plane iron.

Start with a back rub. Holding both tangs, rub the back of the low-angle spokeshave blade on a sharpening stone.

End with help from a holding block. Fit the blade into a V-groove in a wooden block, and run a sharpening stone over the beveled edge to complete the job.

Tape two blocks together. To sharpen the blade of an all-metal spoke-shave, begin by taping it just ahead of the front edge of a plane blade, with the bevel facing outward. Place the “elongated” blade into a sharpening jig and work it over a stone as you would a standard plane blade.

How to get around planer snipe

Q: Whenever I run a board through my thickness planer, it winds up with snipe at one or both ends. The infeed and outfeed tables are level with the planer bed. What can I do?

A: THE SIMPLE SOLUTION is to size your workpieces long and then cut off the snipe. Or, you can run strips of wood along the sides of the board being planed. Make the strips at least 1 in. wide and the same thickness as the workpiece. To determine the strips’ minimum length, measure the distance between the planer’s cutterhead and either of its drive rollers (with the machine unplugged). Add 1 in., multiply by 2, and add that number to the length of your workpiece.

Cut the strips and attach them, centered, to the work-piece sides with glue or brads. If you use brads, make sure they’re far enough below the surface to avoid damaging the planer knives.

During planing, the strips reach the cutterhead first, sustaining any snipe, and are held flat under the outfeed roller by the time the work-piece reaches the knives. This virtually eliminates the unsupported lift that causes lead-end snipe. Then, as the board exits, the strips’ tail ends are secured by the infeed rollers, keeping the back of the workpiece from tipping up into the cutterhead.

If your board and side strips are less than 1⁄4 in. thick, they could flex and still leave the board with snipe.

Thinner ends. Snipe mars the end of a cherry board that’s been run through a planer.

One way to avoid snipe is with side strips. Make them the same thickness as the board being planed, but extending beyond both ends. If there’s snipe, the strips take it.

Understanding quartersawn figure

Q: After resawing pieces of old, quartersawn oak, I found that some of the boards with rings that were 5º to 10° off perpendicular to the surface showed even better figure than some with fully perpendicular rings. Is there an industry-standard range defining quartersawn? And how important is it to stay within that range when buying oak for its ray-fleck potential?

A: THE NATIONAL HARDWOOD LUMBER ASSOCIATION defines quartersawn wood as having growth rings that are 60º to 90º to the surface. I use that as a starting point when choosing white oak for my Arts and Crafts chairs, but it’s not the final word.

Think of growth rings as undulating waves running the length of a tree, not as rigidly straight structures. (They’re essentially a history of the stresses put on the tree as it grew, varying in shape and direction as those stresses came and went.) White-oak rings can be dead-on perpendicular at a board’s end but change as much as 10º in just a foot or two. As a result, the figure at the surface of quartersawn wood can change dramatically. I’ve seen many boards with prominent ray-fleck that peters out, only to return several feet down the board.

When buying quartersawn wood, a better way to determine how good its figure will be is to “read” the surface of the rough-sawn wood, looking for rays all along the board’s length. A raking light helps bring out the figure.

You have to inspect the face of this white-oak board to find out how well-figured the whole board is.

Take a flashlight to the lumberyard. Raking the beam at a low angle along a board’s surfaces might bring out the figure you can’t see in overhead light.